The Master of My Fate: Invictus Games Wheelchair Rugby



It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
-          From Invictus by William Ernest Henley

There is something uniquely moving about watching your country play for gold in a sports event. I was privileged to do so a couple of years ago at the ParaPan Am Games when Canada won gold in wheelchair rugby. And recently, I saw Denmark play the finals in wheelchair rugby at the Invictus Games.


I’m lucky that I belong in two different countries.

The Invictus Games were started in 2014 by Prince Harry as an international version of the US-based Warrior Games. In both, men and women who have been wounded, fallen ill, or been injured during service to their country have the opportunity to meet and go up against each other in a variety of sports. This year, over 500 competitors from 17 countries participated and Toronto had the privilege of hosting the Games.

Naturally, I checked out the schedule and when I saw there was going to be wheelchair rugby, I booked tickets right away!


Much as I would’ve loved to be there for both events, I often have things to do during the day (boo work), so we went on Thursday evening to see the semifinals and the finals being played. We missed the first semifinal, but got to watch Denmark play (and win) against the US in the other.

Which, by the way, was the only time there was booing in the arena. That happened at this moment, when the US sent out two burly players (I believe for the first and only time during the match) to essentially sit on the Danish player who was doing most of the scoring.

Sportsmanship much?

The ref kicked them off and the game continued.

The US team had its own version of that kind of player and he scored most of the goals in a subsequent game, ensuring the US the bronze medal.


There was also an exhibition game with celebrities who’re on the USO Tour (I think) giving wheelchair rugby a go. The red team was captained by none other than Derek Hough, thus providing a sublime moment in which my dual obsessions with Dancing with the Stars and wheelchair rugby collided. Quite literally.

Seating in the arena was general admission and we had wandered into the one on the right side. The Danish cheering section was across the court and I wanted to join that enthusiastic crowd for the finals. So I decided to check out how to get there and in so doing, almost quite literally ran into the attending royal.


This was about the time I decided that just as with baseball cards, there ought to be royal cards. I am thisclose to collecting a full house, having now met (sort of) Prince Harry, Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, and the ace of them all, the Queen herself. Well, her hat, anyway. Which counts — we were in the same geographical area, but both of us being rather short it was hard to see each other.

Anyway! One of the things I loved about this event was that the royal patron was incredibly low-key. He sat in the back row, made sure he got his picture taken with any athlete who wanted it whenever he popped out of that seat (I assume even royalty have bladders), and he came out for the medal ceremony. Other than that, he was just another person there. Something I attributed partly to himself and the organizers making sure that the athletes were front and centre, but also to the wonderful tendency of Canadians to leave the famous alone to have their lives. You might gush about having seen someone to your friends afterwards, but you don’t accost them.


I did manage to score a place for us to sit near the Danish cheering section, which was easily the best of them all. They were on their feet for much of the game, waving flags, singing soccer -related fight songs, and there was one guy that was rocking the Viking look, complete with long hair and a hammer.


Denmark went up against the UK and we won! No doubt helped by the cheering section, but also due to their own excellent skills. The more I see this game, the better I understand the nuances and Denmark had that simply the best defense of any of the teams we saw.

The medal ceremony was lovely, as well. Representatives (I assume) from the bronze and silver medal countries handed out hardware to their teams, and Prince Harry delivered the gold, including a hug for each player.


Another thing I loved about this event was that everyone there applauded everything. Even though you might have been cheering for one particular country, we all applauded when the others scored (except perhaps not as vigourously). There was such an atmosphere of camaraderie, support, and friendly competition — with the emphasis on friendly — and it was nothing but positive.


If you ever have an opportunity to attend the Invictus Games, I suggest you get tickets to as many events as you can — some are free, and with the exception of the opening and closing games, the rest are incredibly reasonable. Come out and support the people who go to war for us all.
  

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